Midwest Mountaineering invites you to be part of our community where outdoor enthusiasts get together to learn about places to have outdoor adventures, to learn about the gear and apparel needed to have a great adventure and to associate with like minded people – often over a pint of a craft beer.
Yup, Midwest Mountaineering started in 1970 when Rod Johnson created climbing in seven days. Well, almost. Back then there were only a handful of rock climbers in our area and Rod was one of them, a very frustrated one, indeed. No one in the area had the gear or the expertise that climbers needed. Rod took it upon himself to change
this sad reality and create a happy climbing community right here in the flatlands. Johnson hitch-hiked to California and came home with a backpack full of climbing gear. He sold it to his best friends at real cheap prices. In seven days he had sold it all! The Midwest now had happy climbers with new ways to get high. And it was good!
Then Rod realized that he could sell his friends more than just climbing gear, and that he had a lot more than just seven days to spread the word – the faith – the spirit – the world of outdoor adventure. From his kitchen wall and the aisles at Minnesota Rovers meetings he sold gear for climbing and backpacking under the shingle of “The Johnson Company”.
In 1971 Rod’s little business outgrew his kitchen and moved to 1408 Hennepin Ave. That’s where rent was cheap. A second floor space in otherwise empty store fronts became the home of the newly named Midwest Mountaineering. Wandering hobos found solace in the new first floor “tent” room when the business outgrew the confines of the tiny second floor. Soon Rod added cross country skis (wooden ones of course) and whitewater kayaks.
1976 saw an expansion of downtown Minneapolis toward the run down section of Hennepin Avenue where Midwest Mountaineering was hiding. “Urban Renewal”, they called it. Midwest Mountaineering was forced to move out.Lo and behold, urban renewal was also happening on the West Bank, an even more run down counter-culture haven near the University of Minnesota. Here, instead of tearing everything down, the city wanted young entrepreneurs like Rod Johnson to come in and spruce places up.
Midwest Mountaineering opened at 309 Cedar Ave in the first of what would later become four adjacent buildings. The ceiling leaked. The floor was partially dirt. A fire had ravaged a section. The outside was boarded up – covered with graffiti and posters announcing the latest folk or rock concerts at the nearby Riverside Cafe, Coffeehouse Extempore, Dania Hall and Labor Temple. Rod had his work cut out for him.
With a motley crew of carpenters known as “Donkey Construction” and a growing staff of adventurers the place became a vibrant and busy store front. U of M students next door helped to fuel the backpacking, climbing, X-C skiing craze of the late 70s. Midwest Mountaineering boomed. In 1981 Rod had a crazy idea. “Why not open a seconds and close-outs store in the basement?” The employees all scoffed. But, Rod saw a need for such a store and persisted. Thrifty Outfitters opened upstairs and soon added the best outdoor gear and clothing repair services this side of the Pacific.
In 1985 Rod thought up another brilliant idea. Midwest Mountaineering had recently started selling canoes and Rod said “Let’s have a “Canoe Event” at the state fairgrounds.” Soon Midwest Mountaineering added a “Winterfest” Expo. Now, big-top tents behind the store and U of M buildings a stone’s throw away host the “Outdoor Adventure Expo” in both April and November. It features 100 free presentations on outdoor adventure, 90 exhibitors and the Banff Festival of Mountain Films World Tour.